Another busy week of Blue Jays minor league play just concluded, with a great deal to report on (as usual):
The week culminated with the Futures Game, which kicked off the All Star Game celebrations in Minneapolis. The Blue Jays were represented by A.J. Jimenez, Dalton Pompey and Daniel Norris, who acquitted themselves well in front of the biggest live and television audience the trio have likely ever played in front of.
Leading off for the World team, Pompey flew out and struck out in his first two at bats, but then lined a pair of singles (including one off of a 97 mph fastball from Reds top prospect Robert Stephenson), and scored a run.
Norris worked an efficient 11-pitch second inning, striking out Gabby Guerrero (nephew of Vlad) of the Mariners organization to complete a 1-2-3 frame. Norris has picked up considerable helium this year, and has leaped into many pre-season top prospect polls. Baseball America has him ranked as their 25th prospect, and Baseball Prospectus has him at #33. His name has been mentioned frequently in trade rumours, and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous has suggested that both Norris and Aaron Sanchez could help the parent club out of the bullpen down the stretch.
In front of an audience that included numerous scouts and BA's Ben Badler, Norris didn't make it out of the first inning of his start last week, pulled after throwing 33 pitches. A 9-day layoff, thanks in part to rainouts and a reshuffling of New Hampshire's rotation, may have been the culprit.
Roberto Osuna made his first rehab start for the GCL Jays last week, a little under a year after having Tommy John surgery. Osuna pitched an easy 1-2-3 first inning against overmatched young hitters, striking out a pair. BP's Chris King had Osuna at between 95-97 with his fastball. Osuna's outing wasn't the only highlight of the night, though. Max Pentecost, the second of the club's two first round picks last month, made his second start and picked up his first pro hit, then picked up four more in a 5-5 night.
Sean Reid-Foley, the Jays second-round pick in June, had a much better second pro outing, giving up only 1 hit in 2 innings, striking out 3.
Another name to keep tabs on from the GCL is lefthander Angel Perdomo. The 6'6" Dominican was signed as a free agent in November, 2011, and was invited to Instructional League last fall. In his first stateside game action this season, he has been lights out in the GCL Jays pen, with 24K's in 18 innings over 5 appearances.
The players on their roster are far away from a shot at the bigs, but the Bluefield Blue Jays are fast becoming one of our favourite farm teams.
The Jays won 6 out of 7 games last week, much of it on the strength of its pitching staff, which fired a pair of shutouts during that stretch.
On Monday, a quarter of hurlers, led by starter Joey Aquino, held the Royals' Burlington affiliate to no runs and five hits, and then Daniel Lietz and Jesus Tinoco blanked the Bristol Pirates on six hits, to go along with 8 strikeouts. And on Sunday, while the parent club was losing against the Tampa Bay Rays, Bluefield took a second straight game from their Appy League club in Princeton, with Francisco Rios, Oscar Cabrera, and Canadian Jordan Romano holding the P-Rays to a run and six hits.
While the pitching staff has been the backbone of the team, the offence is picking up. Rowdy Tellez snapped an 0-26 streak on Tuesday, and his 7 for his last 16 at bats. Shortstop Richard Urena hit an extra-innings home run against Princeton to lead the Jays to victory, and is hitting .302/.333/.467, as well as playing stellar defence. Outfielder Josh Almonte is hitting .318/.363/.447, and might not be at this level for much longer if he continues to hit at this pace.
We were about to write about New Hampshire starter Casey Lawrence and his scoreless innings streak, but it was broken at about the same time we sat down to tell you about it. Lawrence had not allowed a run in 32 innings over 5 starts, when he surrendered a pair of second inning runs to Portland. Included in that streak was a near-perfect 7 inning one hitter. At 26, Lawrence, who has had an up and down minor league career, is no longer considered a prospect, but he's had a nice run this year just the same.
Lawrence's teammate Andy Burns had a day to tell his grandchildren about last Sunday. It was his girlfriend's 23rd birthday, and he gave her 23 roses, each with a note attached with a different reason about why he loved her. He had a special 24th rose ready for dinner after the Fisher Cats game that day. Problem was, the game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Burns took matters into his own hands, and hit a two-run, walk-off homer that gave New Hampshire the win. Burns' teammates knew that he had planned to propose to his girlfriend after the game, and the Fisher Cats wives and girlfriends were in tears as he rounded third.
Later that night, the pair met up with several teammates, whereupon Burns took out the 24th and final rose, got down on one knee, and popped the question. She said yes, of course, and budding photographer Daniel Norris was there to take photos.
Their games are often finished long after those of those in the Eastern Time Zone have called it a night, but the Vancouver Canadians, Canada's only Milb team, continue to be fun to follow. The C's 18-12 record puts them in 2nd place in the Northwest League's North Division, and the rest of the baseball world is starting to take notice. Pitcher Miguel Castro was the NWL Pitcher of the Week for the week of June 30 - July 5.
We've taken quite a liking to outfielder Roemon Fields. Fields, a Seattle native, played at tiny Bethany College in Kansas, where he put up huge numbers on the ball field, and was a 60m sprinter during indoor track season. Since much of his stats were compiled against NAIA competition, he didn't draw much attention from pro scouts, and was working for the US Postal Service last summer after failing to get drafted by an MLB team.
Fields' junior college coach contacted him to see if he was interested in playing in an international tournament in Prince George, BC, that summer. While there, Fields caught the eye of a Blue Jays scout, and was signed to a pro contract last fall.
Fields has wasted no time in making a name for himself in the NWL. He has hit .302/396/.397 as a fixture at the top of the Canadians' order, and after stealing his 23rd and 24th bases on Sunday, is one away from tying the Vancouver franchise record.
At 23, Fields may be a touch old for short season ball, but he has quickly made a name for himself, and we're anxious to see what he can do at higher levels.